Fantasy Football: Where projections go astray – Players I was wrong about

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 08: Levi Wallace #39 of the Buffalo Bills tackles DK Metcalf #14 of the Seattle Seahawks during the first half at Bills Stadium on November 08, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 08: Levi Wallace #39 of the Buffalo Bills tackles DK Metcalf #14 of the Seattle Seahawks during the first half at Bills Stadium on November 08, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /
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Reflection is necessary for improvement in fantasy football.

2020 has been the most chaotic fantasy football season I’ve ever taken part in. The amount of injuries has astronomically increased in a year in which the players weren’t given the proper amount of time to prepare for the beatdown their bodies would go through over the course of an NFL season. The COVID effect only multiplies this chaos, prolonging the suffering initiated by close matchups into Tuesday nights or even Wednesday afternoons.

Myself, I’ve had a pretty good season as an analyst and a player, hitting on key players such as Calvin Ridley, James Robinson, and Diontae Johnson. But nobody’s perfect, certainly me, as missed on many players as well this year. As the season winds down, I wanted to reflect on these mistakes and learn from them. About each of these misses, I asked myself: What went wrong? Why didn’t this guy perform like I expected? How can I learn from this mistake?

I narrowed my mistakes down into a few categories, which I’ll get to, but first I want to clarify something: injuries are (usually) just plain unpredictable. It’s nobody’s fault for drafting Saquon Barkley or Dak Prescott and expecting a full season of elite production out of them. Injured players aren’t really “busts,” they’re just unlucky picks. it’s also important to note that injuries to teammates can have huge effects on a player’s production. Miles Sanders has been performing terrible as of late, but it’s not entirely his fault, as his formerly elite offensive line has been absolutely decimated by injuries this year. This also works in the other direction, such as Rob Gronkowski’s status as a blocking tight end until O.J. Howard got a season-ending injury, which transformed Gronk into a TE1.

Now that we’ve cleared any kind of relevant injury impacting a player’s production as a reason for a misevaluation in value, let’s get on to the actual mistakes.

The offense was fundamentally different

The first step in making projections involves predicting how an offense will operate. How often with they throw and how often will they run the ball? How many plays will they run? How will new faces on the roster or on the coaching staff impact last year’s numbers? If an expert answers these questions incorrectly, they’re bound to screw up the values of the team’s fantasy-relevant players.

An example of this system going well would be how I projected the Browns this year. I noted that Kevin Stefanski ran a very run-heavy offense with the Vikings, so it was likely that he would continue that style as the head coach of Cleveland, especially with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as dynamic weapons. I noted that there wouldn’t be enough targets to go around for the pass-catchers Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Austin Hooper, who have derived their value in the past from a massive target share. For that reason, I faded them in my rankings, and the Browns offense turned out basically exactly as I expected.

The two teams that I projected the worst this year were in the Chargers and the Seahawks. I expected the Chargers to be a defensive and run-heavy team, helmed by Tyrod Taylor, who is not good for fantasy. I concluded that Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler would lose most of their value, as Allen needed a high reception total to sustain production, and Ekeler needed receptions and touchdowns. To me, it seemed very probable that they would bust. For exactly one week, I was right. Both players were quiet until Justin Herbert made a surprise debut and unlocked the Chargers’ top playmakers in the blink of an eye. Despite Ekeler’s injury limiting his actual production, my projections on both these players were completely off-base due to the nature of the offense.

As for my projection of the Seahawks, I wrote an article about why Tyler Lockett should be drafted over D.K. Metcalf, citing the fact that Lockett was the WR1 on the team and the Seahawks hadn’t passed enough to support two WR2s at any point in Russell Wilson’s career. I claimed that Lockett was undervalued, and Metcalf was overhyped. While Lockett did turn out to be somewhat undervalued, I was very much wrong about Metcalf because the Seahawks offense fundamentally changed, from throwing the ball 51.8% of the time in 2019 to 59.4% of the time in 2020.

To learn from these misevaluations, I would say this: don’t discount narratives of change. The possibility of #LettingRussCook and Justin Herbert earning the starting job were apparent before the season. I ignored them. Naturally, not every possibility will come to fruition, but consider what could majorly alter a player’s value at any point in the season. I heard the narrative of Kareem Hunt becoming a top-5 RB if Nick Chubb got injured  so many times this offseason, and it didn’t exactly work out as expected in practice, but it was an important piece of information in assessing Hunt’s value.